Tuesday, January 19, 2010

STO follow up

I mentioned in a previous post that my expectations for Star Trek Online were not extremely optimistic. But, rather than judge on the basis of gut feeling and limited information, I signed up for the open beta to see for myself. Obviously, with my own upcoming game expansion to work on I haven't had a lot of time to play, but I've played enough to reach a few conclusions at least, and my initial opinion hasn't greatly changed, unfortunately.

However, this is still a beta and the purpose of a beta is to get good player feedback, so I have posted these exact same thoughts on the STO forums for whatever they are worth. I honestly hope the designers there are already working along these lines, because a well-designed Star Trek MMO would be awesome and I'd love to play it. Unfortunately the current STO beta that I'm in is nowhere near there yet, so it remains to be seen what can be addressed before their launch date.

So, for whatever it's worth, if I were a designer or producer working on STO, the following would be my top priority changes (ignoring actual stability and performance issues, which should be obvious):
  • Give players a tactical computer UI window they can bring up during battle to automate key functions that they choose. Allow them to turn on/off choices such as ‘autofire all weapons till target is dead’, ‘autotarget nearest enemy’, ‘automatically redistribute power to shields’, and possibly ‘autopilot in optimum firing position around selected target’. Honestly, did Kirk spend each episode mashing a button on his command chair nonstop just to keep the shields up? No.
  • Redo the main UI so that instead of looking just like the Champions Online UI re-skinned with a Star Trek colour theme and font, it looks like a Star Trek computer display screen or a ship’s view screen. Stick a big border all around the view screen area, and then displays and controls clearly at the side. This way if you want to do something, like go to warp or hail Starfleet, you click the clearly labeled button that says ‘warp’ or ‘hail’ instead of hovering your mouse over a dozen nearly identical miniscule picture icons trying to read tooltip text and find the one you want. It would be both easier to use and more immersive.
  • Stick a starbase outside every major federation planet mentioned in the shows/movies, just clone the existing one and repopulate with the local race. Add in some kind of canned message explaining why you’re not currently able to beam down to the planet. Really, the first thing 90% of Trek fans are going to do within the first few hours of play is go “ooh look, Vulcan” and try to visit. Currently they find an empty sector with one planet, no scan results, nothing to hail, no starbases, no ships, not even any satellites, and all they can do is ram the planet (which doesn’t even kill you). Fail.
  • Allow exploration. Currently you can’t beam down to explore anywhere you don’t already have a mission for. Exploration is dead. Granted there’s not time to allow true exploration but existing missions could be changed so that instead of requiring the mission from an NPC before you can go somewhere and beam down, allow players to acquire the mission when they enter a system where there is a mission available. Instead of “Lt. Fred has sent you to sector B to explore the alien colony there”, zone into the system and get offered the mission “I appear to have found an alien colony, I should explore and bring back my findings to Starfleet!”
  • Allow travel around your own ship. Currently you can’t. Building the entire ship is impractical in the time frame remaining, but instances of various ship rooms already exist, so at least allow players to enter versions of them for their own ship. For example, when an away team mission goes bad and everyone dies, instead of a boring “respawn”, have everybody wake up in the ship sickbay and have to beam down again. 
  • Rather than having one inventory where everything goes, from salvaged space relics to propulsion system upgrades to ration packs to personal weapons, instead separate ship and personal loot. Personal loot gained from ground missions can go into a normal inventory system, but ship loot gained from space missions should go into a separate inventory. Possibly you could access this inventory and manage it and install items gained from it by going to your ship’s Engineering instance.
  • Add more noncombat methods to complete missions – far too many missions are simply kill missions, and that’s very contrary to the Star Trek spirit. More stealth, more negotiation options, maybe other possibilities. (I realize that to do this thoroughly will take more time than they have till launch, but they could do what's possible and make it a top priority and make certain their players know it.)
  • Fix phasers in ground combat. Phasers are a one-shot weapon. You’re either stunned, or vaporized, there’s no in-between. STO has changed them completely so you have to take 5-6 phaser shots at a target to knock them out. Not only is this ridiculous, it also motivates players to ignore the phasers and upgrade to nastier high DPS weapons like nerve disruptors which is completely contradictory to Starfleet policy. There are at least 3 ways I can think of that would potentially allow phasers to be the one-shot weapons they should be without completely trivializing content, and something like this needs to happen. (Decrease accuracy so the challenge is in aiming, significantly increase reuse time, change 'health' bar to a 'luck' bar, convert phaser hit into a stun (essentially a mez) spring to mind immediately, there are doubtless other options too)
  • Increase the speed of space combat, crawling around is not fun and nor is sitting in place mashing keys for 1 minute 50 seconds just to blow up one undefended drydock (true mission experience). (Also, I’d love to give objects in space gravity, like they have in StarControl solar system combat.) While I realize that increasing ship speed is a potential progression path, the lack of it makes the newbie experience very un-fun, and at this point you can't afford to be losing any newbies. There are plenty of other ship progression paths (shields, weapons, maneuverability, special gadgets, bridge crew slots, etc) without needing to make newbies crawl like snails.
These are just the quickest, most obvious points of course that might be realistic as a quick fix in a short time frame. They might keep people playing a little longer, but there need to be much bigger and more substantial fixes and content additions ASAP.

A lot can still change in the last weeks of beta, so who knows what exactly will be the state of the game when it launches. I know some folks working at Cryptic and they're good folks, so I hope they can turn the game around and make it a success, with or without my $0.02 worth of feedback. But I guess we'll see in two weeks.

Good luck to the Cryptic team, and I hope I'm wrong.

Update to add a link to Scott Jennings' excellent thoughts on STO also.


  1. There are much bigger fish to fry for Cryptic than anything on this list unfortunately.

    Ground pathing for bridge officers is horribly broken on a very large amount of maps.

    Bridge officers fail to spawn probably 30% of the time, and considering many missions require multiple ground instances this is a really big deal.

    Compound above with the fact that currently abandoning any part of a mission for any reason means you have to start at the very beginning. Sometimes this can be 3+ instances back, any of which could get bugged again as you zone in.

    The maps are useless and obvious placeholders. No legend, no tooltips, no waypoints (for most quests).

    The game stresses PvP a decent amount, but there is almost no content for the non Federation side, not to mention serious balancing issues with the two sides. With no content, and inferior ships, there will be very few people playing the 'badguys', and I know many who wanted the game JUST to play Klingons. Klingon Academy was one of the most successful Star Trek games out there afterall. What this means is the badguys die repeatedly and the Federation guys have to wait really really long in queues (on the rare occasion the queues work). Nobody is happy.

    As far as some of your suggestions, I was with you up to the last two. I agree with the phaser thing in concept, but renaming the health bar into luck is a bad cludge. Renaming standard terms for little good reason is a failing of most mmos to me, not a strength.

    Regarding ship speeds, I find them plenty fast, and under full impulse, they are probably even too fast. If you set your power config to full speed, you can get pretty close to full impulse speeds even in combat. This is a LOT faster than the ships were ever shown going in the shows or movies.

    I agree about the annoyances of spamming the spacebar in combat, but that could be solved more simply by removing the restriction on autofire weapons. Currently only one fore and one aft weapon can autofire. Remove that arbitrary restriction and I think space combat would be pretty close to what they are aiming for.

  2. Great points. I haven't had a chance to try PvP or Klingons at all yet but that echoes what I've heard from others. I've certainly also heard a lot of other people complaining about the ground combat issues you mentioned, but I've been lucky enough not to experience them myself - so far anyway. Apart from occasionally beaming down AS my ship or being a humanoid in space, which is interesting.

    I gather a big patch went in last night which should have fixed the map and added waypoints and apparently many other good things, so I'm looking forward to a chance to play again. Hopefully the login server will actually let me get in this weekend ...